Exercise. This is the part of weight loss that has most tripped me up in the past. Because, bluntly, exercise bores me. I've got other stuff to do. I work a full time job, write novels in the evenings, and would like to spend my weekends enjoying the company of friends and family instead of being trapped in some gym. I'm already running out of hours in the day before I run out of stuff I gotta do. When I do have a few minutes each day to unwind, I'd rather read a book or mess around on the internet for a little while. Where the hell am I supposed to find time to exercise?
It wasn't always this way, of course. When I was a kid, my love of reading went meshed nicely with keeping myself active. Since I was a bookish kid, it was only natural I knew the location of the nearby libraries. The closest one was a couple of miles from my house, but, fortunately, I had a bike. So, during summers, it was almost a daily thing for me to make the trek from my house to the library. I often joke that, if I'd kept up that link between reading and exercising, I'd be as skinny as an adult as I was as a kid.
Well, I'm happy to report that I've been able to harness the geeky parts of my brain into a willing ally in my quest to burn calories.
First, as a geek, I love gadgets. It's almost sad how much pleasure I take out of finding new stuff to do with my smartphone. I mentioned in my last post that I record everything I eat in an app called MyFitnessPal. When I walk, jog, hike, or bike, I use an app called Endomondo that uses GPS to track my movements and record my distance, speed, and calories burned. Once I started using Endomondo, the gaming geek part of my brain kicked in and I started wanting to improve my stats. If I averaged walking a mile in 20 minutes, could I get that time down to 18? When I hit that goal, could I get my time under 16? To beat that time, I had to start jogging. I'm down to just over 13 minutes, which is a snail's pace compared to most jogger's speeds, but a pretty amazing accomplishment for me. I'm already working to get that down to 12, then down to 10. In addition to speed, I also push for distance. I used to be happy walking five miles a week. Now, if I don't get in ten, I feel like a slacker. And, I know if I'm slacking off, because Endomondo helpfully shows me records of all my activity, and I can see quickly if my numbers are going the wrong way.
Of course, getting out and walking for two or three hours at a stretch still presents the old obstacle of boredom. Like many modern citizens, I've trained my brain to have a short attention span by clicking links every twenty seconds. It's almost torture to spend an hour without checking the internet. But, is that hyper need for constant stimulation actually good for my brain? Or has it transformed me into a more shallow person, unable to think as deeply as I once did? Fortunately, exercise has helped me reconnect with the amazing power of boredom. As a writer, I need time to daydream. For a long time, I've daydreamed in short chunks, like when I'm driving, or when I'm in the shower. The very worst time of all for daydreaming is when I'm sitting at a computer... and, thanks to having the internet on my phone, I can always be at a computer. But, I can't hike and look at my phone at the same time. Getting out in the woods for an hour or so gives my mind time to wander. Yesterday I took a 50 minute walk in Duke Forest and spent most of the time figuring out the complete life history of a major supporting character in my next novel. Even though my exercise time keeps me away from Microsoft Word, when I do sit down to type, I find that I've got more developed material in my imagination buffer.
Still, I confess I do frequently distract myself when I'm walking. On about half my walks, I listen to audio books. I use the Librivox app (another thing I can do with my smart phone!), which has a library of thousands of public domain classics. I download the print version to my kindle, read at night, then pickup where I left off in the audio version the next time I go walking. So far this year, I've read/listened to Pride and Prejudice, Tarzan of the Apes, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Time Machine, The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, Walden, Beyond Good and Evil, and am now working on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This encourages me to take long walks, so I can get in more chapters. And, I find it creates really pleasant links between the places I walk and the books I've read. There's a bridge on the American Tobacco Trail that, every time I walk over it, I think about the scene in Dracula where vampire Lucy is confronted by van Helsing. There's a steep hill on one of the Eno River trails where I always remember the animal men chanting, "Are we not men?" Every time I walk around Occanneechee Mountain, I recall Heathcliff's passionate declarations of his undying love.
I used to think I couldn't find time to exercise. Now, my exercise time is my geeky brain time, away from the shallow distraction television and facebook, back to the deeper brain activity of literature.
At least, when I walk alone. Because, there's one other aspect of my current exercise regime that's vital to my current success. Cheryl has become just as avid about exercise as I have. Getting out on long hikes and bike rides is something we do together. We connect more walking up mountain trails even if we're fifty feet apart than we do sitting on a couch two feet from each other watching television. Exercise improves my brain and my most important relationship. The fact I also lose a lot of weight is just a pleasant side effect.